Advertisement

Vancouver's Olympic Village school, planned since 2007, still awaits timeline

In this photo from 2020, NDP Leader John Horgan and NDP candidate for Vancouver-False Creek Brenda Bailey attend a campaign stop at the site of the promised Olympic Village school. (Darryl Dyck/THE CANADIAN PRESS - image credit)
In this photo from 2020, NDP Leader John Horgan and NDP candidate for Vancouver-False Creek Brenda Bailey attend a campaign stop at the site of the promised Olympic Village school. (Darryl Dyck/THE CANADIAN PRESS - image credit)

Families who took to heart a 2020 promise to fast track a new school in Vancouver's Olympic Village neighbourhood are wondering when — or even if — construction will ever begin.

The questions are front of mind for single mom Ashlie Corcoran, who lives and works in Olympic Village, with her son only two years away from entering kindergarten.

"We walk past the plot of land [reserved for the school] every day. And I'm so hopeful that it is still going to happen," she said. "If it isn't, I'm going to have to really start thinking about what our next steps are."

Officials have said it will take at least two years to build a school once ground is broken. So far, the site earmarked for a school over 15 years ago remains untouched.

Olympic Village was developed to house athletes from around the world during the 2010 Olympic Games. About 10,000 Vancouverites now call it home.

Planning documents from 2007 show a future school site on Columbia Street, adjacent to where Hinge Park is today.

In 2014, the Vancouver Sun reported that amid a school space crunch in Vancouver, the Olympic Village school was still awaiting funding and a timeline announcement from B.C. Liberal government of the day.

During the 2020 provincial election campaign, the B.C. NDP ran on a promise to fast-track the school.

The pledge was repeated by then-premier John Horgan, Vancouver-Fairview MLA George Heyman and NDP newcomer Brenda Bailey, who flipped the Vancouver-False Creek riding where Olympic Village is located away from Liberal incumbent Sam Sullivan.

Bailey has said she remains committed to the school but was not available for an interview or to answer questions about a timeline or cost. Vancouver School Board (VSB) Chair Victoria Jung was also not available.

The site for a school in Olympic Village was first identified in a 2007 city planning document.
The site for a school in Olympic Village was first identified in a 2007 city planning document.

The site for a school in Olympic Village was identified in a 2007 city planning document. (City of Vancouver)

In an emailed statement, Bailey said the province has offered its formal support for the VSB to develop a concept plan for the school.

"For too long, instead of building enough schools to keep up, the previous government refused to invest in students, families and the False Creek area. We're taking a different approach," wrote Bailey.

The B.C. NDP has been in power since 2017.

According to an email from Jung, a school in Olympic Village remains a VSB priority.

"It has been the top request in the school district's capital plan funding submission annually for the last number of years," wrote Jung.

Central Vancouver's densification has sparked an influx of young families, many attracted by the promise of a walkable lifestyle and car-free living. But for at least the past decade, school spaces in and around the downtown core have not kept up.

Elementary schools routinely hold lotteries for scarce kindergarten spots. Unlucky children who don't make the cut end up on wait lists, their families forced to travel to schools in other neighbourhoods that do have space. Or families choose to pick up and move elsewhere.

'Kindergarten lotto stress'

In Olympic Village families, the "kindergarten lotto stress," as Corcoran calls it, is even more pronounced. Only without a neighbourhood school, parental anxiety is generated by the lottery at catchment school Simon Fraser Elementary, a 25-minute walk away.

"That's not a walkable experience for a kindergartener," said Corcoran.

Simon Fraser Elementary has one of the largest kindergarten wait lists because it's the catchment school for the Olympic Village, despite the two being a 25-minute walk apart.
Simon Fraser Elementary has one of the largest kindergarten wait lists because it's the catchment school for the Olympic Village, despite the two being a 25-minute walk apart.

Simon Fraser Elementary is the catchment school for Olympic Village. Its kindergarten wait list is long. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"We'll have to drive there and become another car in morning traffic. But we might not even get into that school, and so, if we are sent to a school in East Vancouver, or a school in South Vancouver, then we may need to think about where we live."

In an email, the Ministry of Education said staff are working quickly to review a report from the VSB about an Olympic Village school.

"The province and district appreciate everyone's patience while this process continues," reads the email. "The site has been complex and has required some additional planning time."

Corcoran remains hopeful the provincial budget will have answers when it's released later this month.

"I'm really hoping that the city, the school board and the province can all get on the same page right now and provide this resource that's so needed," she said.

With a provincial election scheduled for the fall, plans made now by the government could go by the wayside if another party wins power.